Friday, December 19, 2008

object desire

Inspired loosely by Swiss object posters of the 50's and 60's and more specifically by an Industrial (tractor?) compression coil I saw in a Florence antique shop sitting in a storefront window. It was dramatically illuminated by a theatrical spotlight. Like many objects designed with a purpose it had an inherent beauty in it's form that was increased by the patina its yellow paint had taken on over 50 years or so.
The shop was closed and when I went back again a few days later to enquire about the price ( I didn't really have the money so I went slowly), it was gone. As I am an avid collector of beautiful, but essentially useless things, I was crushed.
So 6 months later, I doodled a spiral, which became a coil, and then a print.
The original was so much more beautiful........

This woodblock print was carved on 6 blocks: 5 poplar and 1 redwood and printed on various Japanese Hosho papers (This Artist Proof was on 100% Gampi) using waterbased ink and hand printed using a Murasaki baren. The dimensions are 10"X15".

Sunday, November 30, 2008

more worms

Here are some more proofs from my early morning session before Thanksgiving.

The first is on torinoko cream and has a brown impression over green for the backround.
The second is on gampi and has a darker brown over green.
The third is one of the early proofs before the brown on bond paper that I kept as a reference.
The last was black and white, again on torinoko cream.

All the colors are a bit on the drab side. I think the farmer/scientist in me wants them to be somewhat naturalistic. I did one in a high key pink but it was nasty and I printed over it pretty quickly to destroy any traces.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

They used to put oysters in the stuffing.......

Racing to finish printing at least the color proofs before we go to visit family for Thanksgiving and got this done this morning. I'm pretty happy with the colors although I printed a few in black and white and a few with a more brown background. I did a bunch of versions on all sorts of leftover Japanese papers and a few pieces of watercolor paper. Most printed well without too much trouble and no more blotchyness!

They used to put oysters in the stuffing. Maybe........

Happy Thanksgiving!
Hopefully we all have what to be grateful for.
--Andrew S.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Not just another segmented worm

An acquaintance of mine suggested I'd sell more work if I stopped drawing all these naked people and did some baby animals or something. Since, so far I've never sold anything, I couldn't really test this hypothesis, so rather than argue I went ahead and sketched, carved and just finished printing the keyblock proof on a little piece that shamelessly is pandering to that market. I haven't decided yet if I'll carve the color blocks or just leave it black and white. Nor can I decide whether to print it in a special limited edition to artificially inflate it's value or leave it open, to better anticipate possible future demand. My eight-year-old son, said, "Dad, I think that's the best drawing you've ever done." But, he likes worms.

This is the real hero of the organic farm and garden. Given the right environment the various species of earthworms will aerate the soil, improve soil texture, fertilize and help remineralize the soil, improve both drainage and water-holding capacity providing drought resistance and preventing runoff. Pictured above would be be Lumbricus terrestris or the nightcrawler. He/She (a true hermaphrodite, the earthworm contains both male and female sex organs) emerges at night or during rains and pulls surface debris (leaf litter, compost, straw, etc.) into their vertical tunnels that can penetrate the soils to 8 ft. Makes decent bait if you're into fishing and is sure to gross out half of any audience by it's size, color and movement. They lay 70-80 small, translucent lemon shaped egg cocoons each year each which will hatch into minuscule baby worms.
Your compost pile however would be home to Eisenia foetida or the redworm. She's red to red-brown and thinner and shorter. These worms tend to live above ground in leaf litter, compost piles or manure heaps breaking down the debris to worm castings, a mixture of soil, carbohydrate slime, and digested nutrients. Very prolific, a cubic yard (3' X3'X3') can hold up to 100.000 worms. These are the cuties used by worm farms for fishing bait or to provide live worms to those who want to start vermiculture or worm-composting bins in their yard or under the kitchen sink. They arrive in those little cardboard boxes that chinese food comes in. I always found that amusing.
The enemies to the earthworm aren't limited to the foraging robin, crow, toad or hedgehog. Damage on the organic farm comes from tillage. The plowing, ripping or rototilling of the surface soils to prepare the fields for planting are very harmful as the steel blades chop up the worms and can drastically reduce their numbers. On conventional farms the real damage however is from both deep tillage-often to depths of a meter and the use of harsh chemical pesticides and herbicides that kill them or deprive them of food or cover.
Earthworm numbers are considered a good barometer for soil health in the organic farming community. In our organic farm in Italy, the organic fields are full of worms; each shovelfull will reveal 2-3 of the big ones and lots of little ones. A layer of leaves or compost mulch will disappear over two to three weeks as the worms pull the debris down into their burrows. In contrast, our bottom fields, farmed conventionally by another farmer (with erbicides and pesticides until very recently and deep plowed every summer) had none when I went looking several years ago. Shovel in hand I walked over the fields and turned up just heavy clay with the occasional antpile or cricket uncovered.

This woodblock print was printed from a small board of hard maple. It measures 4 1/2" X 9" and is the keyblock for what will hopefully become a color print if I can manage to carve the color blocks and figure out how to mix just the right shade of "Nightcrawler Pink" from my limited palette of watercolor colors.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Blu Vase Variations

I went to a Morandi exhibit years ago in Italy and was quite enthralled by the beauty and simplicity of his paintings. I went home and found a suitable vase from my Mother-in-law's cupboard and did this watercolor sketch. The composition is quite staid and rather uninteresting.....another Morandi I am not...but there was a liveliness to the watercolor handling that was reasonably successful and gave this little piece some life.

Like so many other things it sat on my desk and when we moved to Santa Cruz, I thought it would make a good printmaking exercise in woodcut and Moku Hanga. I hoped it would let me work on waterbased printing, especially Bokashi, the graded color for which good Japanese prints are so rightly associated. The blocks were carved in early July but my first attempt at printing was a disappointment and I put it aside. Last week, I carved another block (the one with the diamond print on the tablecloth) and had another go at printing.

This work is small; the image size is roughly 3.5" X 5" and was printed from 6 basswood plywood blocks but was printed and overprinted so has probably closer to 9-10 impressions in several different color tonalities. Hansa Yellow first as a overall plate color, then a pale Prussian blue for the vase, printed four times with different blocks to get the shading and then a Quinacradine Rose/Dalamar Yellow for the backround. A few were printed over a cobalt violet backround printed first.
I'm still not too happy with the outcome although the prints are better this time around. The combination of a stiff composition and too crude printing lost the delicacy that was in the sketch. I think the vase is still a bit too pale and I think I was printing a bit too wet as there is some tortoise-shell mottling in the blue that I didn't intend. And the colors aren't quite right. So I'll go back to the printing bench again and try to give a bit more volume and presence to the vase with some different blues and print a bit drier.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Shameless Plagiarism

Sami did another neat drawing this summer of a veiled chameleon after seeing one in an aquarium at camp. I had my eye on it for a while and when my wife suggested that I try and preserve some of our kids youth by making woodcuts of their drawings instead of.....well, you I usually waste my time-- I agreed.
So seeing this as an opportunity and with Sami's permission, I jumped into this little project. When I told an artist friend that I was ripping off my 8-year-old's drawings for content he said that all artists look at and reinterpret the work of others.
I'm not sure if a visit to Kinko's to photocopy and reverse the image can honestly be called a "reinterpretation" but I'll let history decide.
I still plan to tweak this a bit. You can't tell but the chameleon body and the background color are actually different greens and values but once I printed the dark blue-green key block (the outline colors) I lost all that. So I hope to darken the background with a cool glaze and/or change the text color to a nice violet......And I'm thinking of embossing a nice bumpy lizard skin texture on the chameleon body if the paper will tolerate it.
I'm just sorry that I didn't add a sticky pink tongue and fly in the lower right.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Shapes/Postures woodcut--color proof

Last night I pulled the color proofs of the Shapes and Postures woodcut....I'll look at them a few days before cutting and printing on good paper. There were a few color variants but this was the one I'll go with. There is still a bit of trimming to do to eliminate some unwanted spotting of ink off the edges of the block and around the letters. The paper size is 11"X14 and the image about 11X12.
My scanner isn't quite big enough to fit the picture so the edges are cropped a bit. My attempts to cut and paste half the image at a time just wasted two hours of computer time......someday I'll have to learn how to use photoshop.......The composition is a bit off....the price of sketching directly on the block.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Shapes and Postures--a new woodcut

Here's a black and white proof of a print I just started working on. It is about 11"X13" or so and was carved on a solid 3/4" plank of poplar from the local building supply store. The idea was to try and sketch directly on the board rather than work from a finished drawing that I simply reworked in woodcut. So using an earlier sketch as a starting point and the bathroom mirror as a visual aid I sketched this out quickly in pencil on the board. Carving was a bit ragged to start until I got a better feel for the poplar and had resharpened my knives.

Here's the doodle from my sketchbook that prompted the woodcut. I have these yellow triangle people popping up from time to time in the corners and borders of my sketchbooks over the last 25 years or so. When I have enough money saved up for psychoanalysis I'll explore their origins more carefully (one of the early ones showed a Gullivers Travels-type figure surrounded by lots of these little triangles on the sand). But I'd rather get the works done first before I spend any real energy solving the issues that produce them. My wife, Benedetta, looking over my shoulder announced, "that is really repulsive"
so I know I'm on to something.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Making Bad Wine

2005 was a bad year for the Marignolle vineyard.
In a usually unsuccessful attempt to balance the tied-to-the-land needs of a small farm and other family/marital duties we usually spend some months during the Summer away from Florence in Santa Cruz, California. While the Monterey bay area is a paradise for good food and organic vegetable and fruit production-not to mention great wines, being there in the SUMMER while our small farm is mostly abandoned is always a disaster.
When we are away, the vineyard is mostly abandoned to chance. Attempts to have "helpers" look after the vines have mostly failed. One sprayed a "little bit of pesticide" on my organic grapes "just to be safe" killing all the beneficial spiders and ladybugs and other insects that a few years of non-spraying had brought back. Another helper, a local farmer with much wisdom and years of experience just didn't like the way I was doing things and so pruned the grapevines during my absence to a different geometry, setting me back again by a year or so.
But 2005 was particularly bad. Another helper decided to "shorten" the vines to get rid of all those unnecessary leaves.
He cut the vines back to just above the grape clusters. So I returned to find these stubby little vines with a stem, a leaf, a grape cluster and then nothing.Since the sugars in the grapes come from the photosynthesis in the leaves, no leaves meant no sugars. Tied in with a cooler than usual late Summer the grapes hung on the vines and did......nothing. They didn't get riper, they didn't get sweeter. Even the birds wouldn't eat them.
We waited as long as we could; they were mostly ripe but bad weather was predicted and we thought it best to harvest.

We had the kindergarten class come out that Saturday to pick the grapes and it was a great day. We had a big picnic and the kids and their parents picked the grapes and tossed them into plastic crates. Usually we pick very carefully, picking off, cluster by cluster, any spoiled or damaged fruit, picking off the leaves or is the one real advantage we have over commercial wineries. But these were 5-year-olds. So leaves, spiders, branches and all the grapes all went in the box.
And it didn't really matter. While there was no mold, the grapes were unevenly ripe with lots of little green berries in what were supposed to be black bunches of grapes. But the worst was yet to come.
We usually and deliberately use very traditional methods. We crush by foot, ferment in small batches and intervene fairly little in the winemaking process. But we are very clean as mistakes mean spoiled wine or vinegar. We scour out the buckets with hot water and make sure everything that comes into contact with the grapes is as clean as possible. In this case it meant scrubbing the legs of lots of little kids too, anyone brave enough to hop in the crushing vat. Shoes off, legs scrubbed, clean socks put on, carried to the vat, socks pulled off, in you go. Crush, Crush, Crush. It was a great party.
But quietly, off in a corner one child discovered my compost pile. And seeing us dumping grapes in the vat crate after crate she decided to participate too. She managed to find a small bucket and a handful of compost and before anyone knew what was happening in went a bucket of finished compost into the freshly squeezed juice.
Winemaking isn't a sterile process. Wild yeasts on the grape skins are responsible for the fermentation and the grapes aren't washed so there are bits of soil, dust, bugs and spiders in every vat of wine made everywhere and the rising alcohol levels--we usually reach 13-14% alcohol levels are pretty protective. But compost in the must isn't a great idea.
But it was too late.
The choice was either dump it all out or make the wine anyway. We can't sell it anyhow and it seemed a shame to just pour it all out. So we made wine anyway.

Vino Rosso di Marignolle 2005. Marignolle (our hill and house name) 2005 Table wine. Alcohol 12% (those low sugar levels). Ruby red, very astringent, notes of blackberry branches, pruning shears, children's laughter and a hint of something else...........that I just can't place.
It's actually not that bad and since I made it I drink it, When we have friends over who insist on tasting it they always say it's good but I always notice that for the first time since we started making wines, there is always still half a bottle left on the table when dinner is over.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Lydia, a woodblock diversion

While in medical school 20 years ago, to take a break from the work and single-mindedness of purpose and my peers I ran an informal life drawing group. We had 5-10 people and found a model and divided the cost among the participants.
There was one model who was particulary wonderful. Very skinny, long hair, an ex-student of dance and very, very comfortable with herself and her physical presence. The whole group couldn't do a bad drawing of her.
But after a session of careful, one-hour poses. I got a bit fed up and grabbed a fine line marker and dashed off this gesture drawing in about a minute. Then took a fat-tipped marker and scratched in her long hair and the axillary and pubic hair.
That drawing has lived in a sketchbook for the last 20 years, but I always thought it had a "Japanese" look to it and thought it would eventually make a nice print.

This was carved on two blocks of cherry. One for the thin lines of the body and another for the thicker areas of dark.
It was printed in 4 passes for an "edition" of 20 copies on Japanese handmade paper.

P.S. In Florida in the 80's, despite the hedonistic environment, the drugs, the tiny bathing suits, the students who would drop classes to spend more time in the gym, it was almost impossible to find nude models, male or female. Lydia was unusual in that she was already experienced as an art model and for Florida in the 80's, unusual in that she didn't shave.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Year of the Rat

Last year we mailed out Year of the Boar greeting cards to all our family and friends. We celebrated the Asian zodiac/calendar for 2 reasons. First, celebrated in early February it allowed me to procrastinate further before sending them out and 2nd, I had recently started learning Moku Hanga--the technique of Japanese, water-based woodcuts and this was an excuse to practise on another print.
So, I went to the internet to look at wild boar pictures (cinghiale in Italian) and spent a good week with thumbnail sketches, layout, multiple designs before setting on a design I liked. Once they were carved, printed, glued onto heavier card stock for mailing I got the family together to sign them before they got mailed out.
Sami, then 7, wasn't really interested in signing someone else's card and asked if he could make his own. He sat down, looked at mine and proceeded in about 5 minutes to dash something off. We scanned it into the computer and colored it in.
As we stuffed envelopes. He looked frustrated and started to cry. When I asked what was the matter he said that he can't do anything right and wished he could draw as well as his father. I started to laugh which made him even madder until I explained that I wished more than anything that I drew as well as he did now at age 45 as he did at 7. He didn't believe me but I promised that he would be able to design next year's card, this years Year of the Rat.
So Sami designed our 2008 family greeting card and my job was just to faithfully carve and print his drawing.
Both prints were in loose editions of about 60 and were sent via the Italian postal service to family and friends.
We still draw together. Each of us looking over the other's shoulder and trying to make our drawings look like the others.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Here's what the remaining bottles look like. And here is what the process is like.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I am a printmaker as well as farmer and when we started making wine, I started making wine labels. One of the perils as a beginning winemaker however is that the wine isn't always agreeable. My first attempt at a Chianti had a lovely garnet color as I poured it all out into the compost pile..a poor quality vingear that was the result of too many "advisors" and not enough experience to follow my own judgement.
So in 2006 when we held back some of the white grapes from the Red wine we were making, we crushed and fermented them separately as an attempt to make a decent white wine for summer drinking or at least a decent cooking wine. I waited to taste the finished wine before thinking about making avoid wasting all that work.
Unfortunately, that backfired. Once I'd realized that the wine was pretty decent and got to work on the labels it was too late. By the time the labels were done, we'd drunk most of the wine.
I was left with 50 hand-made wine labels and lots of empty bottles.
Lacrime di Rospo is a woodcut carved on 1 plank of Italian beechwood and printed in brown ink on handmade Japanese paper.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Lacrime di Rospo translates from the Italian to mean in English, "Toad's Tears". Long ago and for reasons I can no longer recall I adopted as my muse and mascot the common toad, bufus bufus. As an American living in Italy, a land of rich and sometimes binding traditions and history, when I started making wine I tried to keep it fun and irreverent.
While a wonderful, sweet, white dessert wine exists (Lacrime di Cristo, DOCG), our wine, each year is something else. We grow our own grapes, crush by foot using traditional methods and make less wine in a year than the average winery spills on the floor on a given day and the results of our efforts at the end of the fermention, decanting, ageing and bottling is often comical, sometimes delicious, never reliable and completely unsaleable.
I hope to spend time sharing what it is like to be an occasional organic farmer/gardener, hobby winemaker, sometimes artist, and oftener and oftener a full-time parent and husband. Hopefully my musings will be of interest to someone.
I hope to post images of the farm and my artwork in the coming days. I welcome all comments, encouragements and corrections.